Truffle Market at Sainte-Alvère

It is the first Monday of the new year and, in the Dordogne, there is no other place to be. We are headed for the truffle market in Sainte-Alvère, held only on Monday mornings during the truffle season, which is between December and February.

These black diamonds, as they are known, are rare and keenly sought across France and the world, and this is one of the most famous truffle markets in the Country. Dealers, restauranteurs and even consumers queue in anticipation for the moment, at 10am precisely, when the doors to the glass-fronted covered market are flung open and trading commences.

Place du Marché aux Truffes, Sainte-Alvère

Truffles for sale

During the hours before this, and behind locked doors, the truffles have been graded into category 1 or 2, depending on size and quality. This grading process and the subsequent trading is overseen by a number of officials called Les Commissaires Qualités Adjoints, who ensure that all activity is conducted within the market’s numerous rules. Well, we are in France.

Sainte-Alvère is a beautiful historic village with a market place overlooked by the large church and fluttering flags of La Republique.

We had joined the queue shortly before 10am and there was already a large crowd ahead of us: a mixture of locals, professional buyers and tourists here for the first time (including me!). The permanent truffle market building is located in the eponymous main square.  We shuffled forward towards the entrance, with each step becoming more aware of the heady scent from within.

Several long tables were set up along the sides and the middle of the room with narrow aisles between for the public to process along, in turn selecting and sniffing the small black nuggets on offer. Traders stood behind the tables, the price and grading of their truffles written on slips of paper before them; today’s prices were €800/kilo for a category 2 and €900/kilo for a category 1 truffle. In spite of this lofty wholesale price, the energy in the room was palpable, the trading enthusiastic and noisy – truffles can retail at twice this price!

I overheard the mayor introducing himself and chatting with people as they entered the room. Although a long-established event, it is clearly still conducted with an element of unfussy ceremony and respect from those officiating and attending. This is not a surprise, as anyone living in this region of France knows the importance of local ingredients. In the truffle realm, these are rightly regarded as world class.

Two of my companions, Denis and Ann, proudly showed me their truffles. You have to be quick and decisive here – everything can be sold within half an hour. I was asked about my own purchase and had to confess ashamedly that I had been too focussed on my “experience”, and not enough on my potential omelette-aux-truffes.

Denis proudly shows off his truffle

As we stood outside, I was approached by a lady who asked whether my dog, Molly, had been allowed into the market. Yes, I said, there were indeed dogs in there. I didn’t add that we had swiftly evacuated Molly from the room when she showed more than a passing interest in the small, black “treat” on the conveniently dog-nose-height table. Can you imagine…….??

I highly recommend this excursion if you are here during truffle season. Sainte-Alvère is just a 30 minute drive from Lanquais, through pretty countryside in the hills above the Dordogne river. Take a flask of coffee though, as most cafes and restaurants are closed on Mondays.

Molly showing a tad too much interest..

Truffle facts:

Tubor melanosporum, commonly known as black truffles or perigord truffles, last about a week following picking. Their already strong flavour intensifies when heated. They are usually sliced very thinly or grated, and are often used on meats, in sauces, and with eggs.

Truffle hunters find them by looking for truffle flies hovering above the ground under oak trees, or using trained dogs to sniff them out.

If you like easy-reading fiction, check out Martin Walker’s “Black Diamond”, a detective story based on the Sainte-Alvère truffle market.

Place du Marché aux Truffes, 24510 Sainte-Alvère, France